I am writing a quick series about how we homeschool.
For Part one see here
“In history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see, and in that record you can find for yourself and your country both examples and warnings: fine things to take as models, base things rotten through and through to avoid.” – Livy
I think the question I am asked most of all is how I choose what we study. This is an easy question to answer. I follow where history takes us. We use history as the back bone of the majority of our education. Four years ago we began at the beginning of the Old Testament in Turkey. This is thought to be the location of the garden of Eden and the resting place for Noah’s ark (Mount Ararat). Following where the Bible took us we spent as long as we needed in each culture (Turkey, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Israel, Persia, Greece, Italy and currently the Romans lead us to Briton which is where we have stayed.) Occasionally I take detours. Israel was hard going for me as I was pregnant, sick and on house arrest with complete placenta praevia. So I stopped, regrouped, bought the children a lap book and we learnt about Ancient India from my bed.
We’ve been learning about British history for the past couple of years, after we had followed the Romans there. So far we have studied the Celts, Anglo Saxons, Vikings, Normans and are currently in the middle of the Crusades.
Being British, our history is not nearly as exciting to me as the exotic lands abroad. This has meant a quick revisit to China with the medieval explorer Marco Polo, using him as an excuse to get out of England! And again this summer we exited England only to find ourselves in 1800’s pioneer America. By doing this, I am acknowledging that my enthusiasm for a subject doesn’t extend indefinitely. Often taking a break from something I have lost interest in, rekindles it enough to return to later. If I am not over the top excited about school, how can I expect the children to be?
Another question I have received was about whether I felt our school was a little top-heavy in history. I have not a leg to stand on. It is. However, funnily enough I do not seek to teach history in my history lessons! Ha, you weren’t expecting that were you? It matters zip to me whether my children know the dates of the Battle of Hastings or not, however it is important to me that they are able to think critically, so I used this battle to teach them how. You see, for me history is interesting enough to use to teach the children heavy concepts in a fascinating way. Let me explain.
All I remember about history in school was lists of dates and events. Needless to say I stopped officially studying it at 14. However, I have always enjoyed the story of history, the players who have fundamentally affected the world in which we live today. I believe whole-hearted that the past has much to teach, if one can ignore somewhat the dates and dig a little deeper to the events and those who took part in these events.
Every period, every culture, has something unique to offer us as home schoolers, and if it’s not obvious, I’ll dig a little deeper until I find what I am looking for. Often I’ve not got a clue what that something is that I seem to be seeking so earnestly for. Just recently I have been school planning the crusades. I didn’t go into the planning knowing that I would be concentrating on the Pope’s speech with quite such alacrity. I simply read, and researched and researched and read, until something spoke to me. There was something about the pope’s speech that got to me and I began thinking about the possibility of studying it in greater detail. This lead on to the inevitable comparisons there are to made to Queen Elizabeth I speech and Hitler’s speech, not to mention Winston Churchill. Oh, the possibilities just excited me!
Thing is, speech study, as and by itself was not going to excite two 10 and one 11-year-old. So I looked a little deeper into the reasons why it had captured my attention. It’s persuasiveness, almost dangerously done, stood out and a lesson about propaganda was born. And the children? They loved it! It has had the added benefit of teaching them that they should not accept everything they see or hear at face value; that on the whole the majority of printed literature has an agenda of some sort. Through designing a poster, they began to understand (as much as 10 and 11 year olds can) that there was power in the words they used and that images increase this power. And (I hate to go on, but I don’t seem to be able to stop myself) the children also received a lesson all about persuasive techniques, which handily tied in with my goals for their own writing this year.
I do understand that you are all probably agog with horror. Can someone actually plan their children’s school in such a haphazard manner? Yes. Unfortunately there is no other way for me. My mind is naturally a very busy and chaotic place to be, but as my husband (who understands me like no-one else) says, ‘it maybe a bit messy to others, but it always comes together in the end’. And so it does.
Ordering the Chaos
Following world history is an unusually sensible thing for me to do, because without me even trying it exerts a form of order. I plan a year in advance. No, maybe not the individual lessons, but I choose the time periods I will be concentrating on, the cultures I will be studying and most importantly I buy in the main resources for the following year. Next year for example, we will start the renaissance, concentrating on the Elizabethan times. With the vast exploring and literary works this will be a very exciting era. We already have many resources pertaining to the explorers of the time and to Shakespeare. I will continue to collect items so that by September I’ll have everything I need.
This way of preparation works well for me because I can trawl charity shops and pick up bits and pieces for very little money knowing they will be useful in the coming year and it also gives me time to familiarise myself with the time period by reading up on it. In addition, the children are able to use the summer holidays to get a head start on their reading, which means they are kept out of mischief over the summer and they are fully prepared for the coming years study. Win win.
In addition, it gives me the time to collect items from Amazon, dvds and also find out if I know anyone that might be able to help in any way. For example the lovely lady who owns the post office in our village came and talked to the children about India, bringing bindis, clothes and toys from India for them to play with. Our butcher has helped us on many an occasion, most memorably by obtaining a whole chicken, legs, head and all, for us to mummify. I am very aware that I would be limiting my children’s education if they just had me to teach them so I utilise everything and everyone I can think of. We are a resource rich home school, probably because we don’t use any curriculum and because we do many, many hands on activities. Collecting things over the year spreads out the cost somewhat. Nevertheless, school remains one of our largest expenses.
It is also during this time that I ask the children what they would like to learn. This is important for our family because I eventually want to hand the reins over to each child to fully direct his or her own learning. T11 almost entirely drives his own learning and it is working brilliantly.
Tomorrow I’ll write about each of the topics and how I macro plan them each summer.